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eat the rich llemar nicholson

Eat the Rich. Diss the Poor.

We would imagine that the wider Jamaica would be rocked by news of the passing of Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, owner of the Sandals group and the ATL group which includes the Jamaica Observer. Upon hearing this shocking news, as most deaths tend to be, I sensed that a chaotic and shady debate would rage on twitter and other social media apps about the man, the myth, and the legend. For some, a hero and champion of Brand Jamaica. For others, a reminder of Jamaica’s colonial past and present, and all the negative implications of such. For, you see, Butch Stewart was filthy rich, a US dollar billionaire, and on twitter, we eat the rich for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

 

eat the rich

Twitter, coincidentally, is the social media app of choice for many rich people in Jamaica, and many of those who will become rich – and disproportionately so. After all, we are the articulate minority. I now cannot believe that I contemplated Krash the Culture to be called The Articulate Minority, because while an accurate descriptor, the root of the phrase is antithetical to the ethos of the brand.

If we were to go strictly by my politics, and not what is perhaps assumed about my politics, I would too be munching upon seeing Nationwide News’ announcement of the development late on Monday January 4, 2021. But this time, I opted to wait and observe for I felt there was a considerable grey area and intricacies which would provoke hypocrisies from some of the application’s usual suspects, even whilst there were some who remained consistent. Make no mistake, I was never going to offer my wailing condolences to a man whose primary business had the optics and functioning in many regards of neo-slavery, portraying Jamaica as a tropical paradise for the lighter hue to be waited on hand and foot by grateful slaves in suspiciously plantation-flavoured resorts.

But I was intrigued by how unaware people appear to be of their own current standing, developing biases and prejudices, and likely futures. 

Label we must

Jamaican twitter has followed local norms of putting a label on each thing, whether it be according to sexuality, physical characteristics, or social class. Fat man, blacks, fish, and everything in between and around is used to label without much thought of the person labeled. We have designated a (Jamaican) flag (in twitter name) twitter, Half Way Tree twitter, uptown twitter, over 35 twitter, women’s empowerment brunch twitter, and whatever other names our creative people can conjure. What I am particularly interested in is how we stratify and segregate  ourselves on the app that caught my attention considering our stance to those we deem to be in the upper class in Jamaica. I must state in plain and certain language that Half Way Tree twitter is a classist denotation, since we typically refer to the capital of Saint Andrew as where downtown (lower classes) meets uptown (upper classes), and by juxtaposition of this group against the uptowns, we deem them less than. It has been justified to say it’s a neat way of calling people stupid, and I understand the effort to name and label, but it’s undeniably a precursor for far more cynical and consequential biases in years to come as the bright people outside of Half Way Tree twitter get cozy in executive corporate offices.


In doing so, those who casually use the term feign superiority over their ignorant counterparts and completely dismiss their opinions. I have consumed the content from Half Way Tree twitter and identified the funny as others pretend misogyny, naivete, and human imperfections originate at Half Way Tree and infect the rest of us on Festivus. I would caution us to be cognizant of becoming that which we despise. What we fail to recognize is that the only thing separating oppressor and oppressed is not morality, but the institutions that protect and enable oppression. This is to say the patriarchy, institutional racism, homophobia and other forms of institutional oppression all work towards arrival at a false verdict on the virtues of the human participants. It is not evil versus good, and had the roles been reversed, the same sorts of evil would have been perpetrated. 

It’s also easy to observe that oppressed subsets oppress and carry prejudice within their own oppressed subsets. Wealthy black people oppress poor black people. Women shame broke niggas, as if the patriarchy shields black men from institutional racism and does not expose them to the most violent crime of any racial subgroup in the world. LGBT people form their own prejudices against subsets of the community which are deemed less than, because a down-low man in a country where homophobia is still fairly common isn’t brave, for example. And so on, and so on. It is therefore not a discussion of morality whenever we adjudicate on the life of Butch Stewart and the family he has blessed with generational wealth.

Diss the Poor

It is hypocritical to do so, especially as I observe our callous disregard of those even more disadvantaged than ourselves, whether it be women, people from the ghetto, the LGBT community, and apparently those who attended certain high schools. This begs the question of whether we want equality, or more cynically, access to the privileges of those we want to devour, but guided by our superior morals and values which will lead to harmonious social stratification. I recall driving on Balmoral Avenue recently and seeing a wheelchair bound man begging, catheter and all, in the middle of the road. Barely anyone batted an eye as they sped through the green light, leaving the man to contend with the sweltering heat and his kidney failure. With my weak heart, I did something I certainly haven’t done enough of, as I used to pass by in my childhood with an insult on a beggar’s laziness, in dropping some money into his pan. It was absolutely not enough to arrest his situation and I felt saddened after as I jostled for position. Whilst not an indicator of oppression, it does signal that the same structures of class are perhaps no issue to us as long as we have access to the wealth we need to catch flights and not feelings. We are perhaps not our brother’s keeper, but the keeper of our own interests and the interests of those we care about, because who fights against black people more than other black people?

Even so, this viewing of Jamaicans as one homogenous group is a simplification, but an important one as Jamaica is an average of the individuals living on the island. There’s also overlap between those that want to eat the rich and those that diss the poor for fun which renders many of the critiques of the man Butch Stewart hypocritical. Butch Stewart did good for Jamaica. His politics and ideas on economics do not align with my own. His embracing of the plantation resort model and a trickle down industry with clogged pipes are violently opposed to how I believe a post-colonial Jamaica can escape the clutches of new oppression. Indeed, the very business he made the majority of his fortunes off cannot achieve any sustainable and vaguely equitable development of Jamaica. In my estimation, he also did a lot of harm, through lobby power at the very least, and would play some role in the entrenching the lack of diversification of our economy and attendant overreliance on neo-slavery – I mean, tourism – as we got comfortable in the idea of a servi(tude)ce economy.

 

 

Even as I acknowledge our several points of deviation, I must with the same vigour understand the contributions he made to our economy and to our image in the global village. For that, I get why so many august figures from both sides of the political divide have extended sincere and sorrowful words of condolences to his family. I do not share the man’s ideology, but I do understand that a human has passed. A human life has ended. 

It is also perfectly acceptable to be too incensed by what he represented to ensure his legacy is not romanticized. So, as people continue to eulogize Butch Stewart according to our own experiencing of the man and his wide ranging impact, we must understand that nobody is universally good or bad to everyone. Our own beast is often only curbed and curtailed by our lack of proximity to privilege. My advice? Do not be like the rich, because the rich are often those who did not play by the rules and therefore avoided the shaft. Uplift the poor in any way we can, however trivial. Can we all try?